Moving Forward in 2019

Dear Western Community:

Happy New Year, and welcome back to campus!  I hope that you had a great holiday break, with ample opportunity to recharge and enjoy time with family and friends. 

As we enter winter quarter and a new year, I’d like to share some of the priorities that are of highest importance to me, and invite you to share your thoughts, suggestions and questions on these priorities below.  I hope you’ll check back often to learn about progress and share your suggestions as we move forward together in a spirit of determination to make lasting change and progress of which we can all be proud.

Here are the top priorities I see for Winter 2019:

Working with students of marginalized identities to productively address their expressed needs and concerns.  Since the student demonstration in the President’s Office and the student-led forum in the beginning of December, I have reflected a great deal with other senior administrators about the many distressing student stories that we heard, the ways that Western must immediately, and in the longer term, improve its policies, procedures, and climate to address unmet student needs and concerns, and how our community can work together productively to create inclusive and lasting culture change. 

Let me start by saying that Western is absolutely committed to creating a more inclusive and equitable community.  This is my highest priority.  There are specific goals and metrics about equity and inclusion embedded in our strategic plan which address many of the needs advanced by students at the forum in December.  Several university-wide initiatives are underway to advance these goals, though I will be the first to admit that we must do a better job of engaging students and faculty members in solutions, and we must do a better job of communicating how these goals are progressing.  The rate of change at Western with respect to equity and inclusion has been slow, starting with access, and we have missed opportunities to accelerate it.  We need to own that.  And we will only succeed in achieving our aspirations to become the kind of community we want to be if every member of the Western community is committed to being part of the change. 

Since the end of December, I have been meeting, and I will continue to meet with, clubs and academic affiliation groups for marginalized students to learn more about their unique needs and concerns, and the ways that Western can address them.  Going forward, Vice President Melynda Huskey and I will be meeting with these groups several times throughout the academic year, as I believe these more intimate dialogues provide the best opportunities to learn about unique concerns and work together productively to address them.  And, we will be increasing the frequency and clarity of communication with campus about the progress on actions we have taken, and plans for future action.  We will continue to focus and refine our agenda on activities that bring lasting change.  Our current work includes revisiting our procedures and protocols around discrimination complaints and interim suspensions and communications; expanding the Provost’s Faculty Diversity and Inclusion Hiring Initiative; and advancing student recruitment and success initiatives.  I encourage you to check this blog regularly for updates on our progress.

Advancing Western’s priorities during the 2019 Legislative Session.  For the upcoming 2019-2021 biennial budget Western has three key priorities:

Competitive compensation for faculty and staff: In order to retain and attract high quality faculty and staff Western has requested $15.3 million to fully fund negotiated contracts with classified staff and to provide a 4% per year compensation increase for all faculty and professional staff.

Expanding STEM capacity: Western is experiencing unprecedented growth in the number of students majoring in STEM degree programs.  At the same time, employers in Washington’s technology sector report a critical need for STEM-educated workers, according to the 2017 Report Card from the Washington State STEM Education Innovation Alliance.  Washington ranks #46 in the nation -- and last among high-tech-intensive states -- in the proportion of high school graduates who go directly to college.  To address this, the Alliance is pressing for expanded postsecondary STEM education and financial aid with a focus on equitable access and retention.  For our part, Western has requested $7.6 million to address high-demand STEM program expansion (Electrical Engineering, Pre-health Sciences and Energy Technology), including pre-advising and cohort support models for improved outcomes for underserved students.

Construction funding for an Interdisciplinary Sciences Building and design funding for a new Electrical Engineering/Computer Science Building: To support expansion in STEM capacity, Western has also requested $60 million for the construction of a 50,000 square foot interdisciplinary science building.  We are also requesting $6.5 million in design funding to plan a 50,000 square foot building to address capacity needs in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.  For this latter building there may also be potential to leverage public-private partnerships for fundraising. 

During the session, Western will also be pursuing funding to improve Career-Connected Learning by expanding career counseling services, funding to address the State’s teacher shortage by increasing the number of WWU education graduates by 200 each year, and funding to update critical wired and wireless networks throughout campus. 

Starting with the Governor’s budget, released in December 2018, which includes funding for two of our capital priorities and approximately half our STEM-focused operational request, we will be working with the legislature to seek full funding for our operational and capital needs.

Advancing the Student Success Initiative, raising money for merit and need-based scholarships, study abroad scholarships, and undergraduate research opportunities.  Reflected in the three core themes of Western’s strategic plan—Advancing Inclusive Success, Increasing Washington Impact, and Enhancing Academic Excellence—is our commitment to the idea that higher education is a public good that should be accessible to all qualified students.  In order to make this idea a reality for more students, the WWU Foundation is committed to raising at least $10 million over the next three years for merit- and need-based scholarships, study abroad scholarships, and scholarships for undergraduate research opportunities. 

Completion of the Institutional Resource Modeling Process, including further exploration of WWU expansion on the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas.  This fall I charged a President’s Advisory Committee on Institutional Resource Modeling, including representation from faculty, staff, students, and administrators, to work on a resource planning process to ensure that Western’s new strategic plan is connected to a realistic sense of the funding required to advance its goals and objectives.  That committee has been working on areas critically important to the achievement of strategic plan goals such as increasing retention and graduation rates, increasing research and creative activity, and addressing current shortfalls in operational funding.  Working with the professionals in academic affairs, business affairs, and enrollment and student support services, this broadly representative committee is helping to guide the development of a set of resource scenarios that will inform the ways Western approaches revenue generating strategies.  The final work of the committee will be presented to the Board of Trustees at its regular meeting in June.  You can learn more about the Committee’s change, membership, timeline, processes, and communication plan at https://provost.wwu.edu/resource-modeling.

This winter a new working group within the Resource Modeling Committee will be created to develop a set of resource scenarios related to the feasibility of expanding Western’s presence on the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsulas, directly related to the strategic plan theme of Increasing Washington Impact.  This follows on the recent completion of a feasibility study funded by the Legislature in the 2018 session.  Starting in May and continuing throughout the summer and fall, Western worked with a consultant to document current and future higher educational needs on the Peninsulas, convene regional stakeholders, and explore the feasibility of several higher education delivery options.  While the feasibility study report confirmed several themes consistent with Western’s experience delivering education for over two decades in Port Angeles, Bremerton, and Poulsbo, it was determined that a more comprehensive assessment of the capacity and resource needs for successful expansion was required.  The institutional resource modeling process already underway provides an ideal environment to conduct this additional assessment.  We will also engage our community college partners on the Peninsulas in order to address systemic issues throughout the K- 16 pipeline related to academic preparedness, aspirational awareness, and affordability.  The complete Peninsulas expansion feasibility study report and more information about next steps is available on the Provost’s website.

These are only a few of the many important initiatives and priorities underway at Western.  The thing they all have in common is a commitment to inclusive student success and increasing our impact in the state.  I am continually inspired by the energy and engagement of our campus community in making Western a better place, and I am grateful for the partnership among our students, faculty and staff in making lasting progress.  I welcome your thoughts and ideas, and know that we will make Western stronger by working together, and being united in our purpose.

Sincerely,

Sabah